Wednesday, May 2, 2007


Exodus; Drama, USA/ Cyprus/ Israel, 1960; D: Otto Preminger, S: Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint, Jill Haworth, Ralph Richardson, Peter Lawford, Lee J. Cobb, John Derek, Sal Mineo

Cyprus, '47. The British soldiers have stopped a ship of 611 Jewish immigrants from proceeding to Palestine and put them in a refugee camp. Kitty, a nurse whose husband died recently, decided to nurse the people, thus making friends with the 14-year old Karen. Ari Ben Canaan, a proud Jew and member of Haganah, disguises himself as a British colonel and manages to bring all 611 Jews back on a ship. Before they can leave, the British stop them, and they all enter a hunger strike on the ship. The British eventually let them through to Palestine. Once there, the young Dov Landau joins the terrorist group Irgun to repel British soldiers from the Holly land. Ari and Kitty in the meantime fall in love and place Karen in the village Gan Dafne. He manages to rescue his uncle Akiva, a member of Irgun, from prison, but he dies from a bullet. When the UN decides to divide Palestine to form Israel, Ari hears from his Arab friend Taha that the Arabs plan to fight with the Jews. Karen and Taha eventually get killed, and Ari mourns them.

One of Otto Preminger's last films, "Exodus" is an interesting 3.5 hour drama that serves almost as a three dimensional insight into the circumstances that formed the modern Israel, as opposed to sparse, black and white history lessons about the same event. The film actually shows that Israel didn't form overnight, but with a lot of troubles and complications, capturing the status quo situation of Jews in British Palestine, a state before their state was formed. The first half of the film, that plays out in Cyprus, cleverly analyzes how Jews suffered even after the end of World War II since they were citizens without a country - the refugee camps in Cyprus deliberately gained parallels with concentration camps - showing how antisemitism was present in small traces even in British soldiers. Many complained at Paul Newman's portray of Ari Ben Canaan but he pulled his role just right and made a good job out of it, especially in some amusing scenes, like the one where he disguised himself as a British colonel and managed to smuggle the Jewish refugees right in front of British soldiers. The hunger strike on the ship is powerfully presented, but it was a wise choice to end it fairly quickly and not make the whole film out of it.

The second part of the film, playing out in Palestine/Israel, is rather unorganized and leaves an impression as if it's not sure where it's heading. Sal Mineo, who won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar, is very good in his small, sparse role as Holocaust survivor Dov, in one scene painfully admitting how he was "used" just like women in Auschwitz on some occasions, but Jill Haworth is even better. The story engages in realistic observations of the locations at that time; British soldiers and Arabs can be found on every corner, and Jews are settling the land in small communities, but some subplots in that part seem unnecessary no matter how good they are, for instance in the jail break of Irgun member Akiva where a girl smuggled the dynamite in her mouth and gave it to an inmate through a kiss. "Exodus" is slightly overlong, preachy and dry at moments, but it served a nice purpose as being an elaborated history lesson for those who are interested in that area.


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